Off Grid Living Water Systems: Rain Water Harvesting, Cisterns, Wells & More

We have been living off the grid for about 8 months now and something we frequently think about (and hear about on our channel) is the subject of water. When you live on grid, water is a no-brainer as you don’t have many options. When you’re off grid, picking a home water system isn’t as obvious as there are multiple ways to solve the problem. In this video, we’ll share some of the things we’ve been thinking about as it pertains to off grid living, and what route we’re thinking.

Off-grid, handcrafted life on Oregon farm & workshop

Brian is an “obsessive craftsman” who believes he can build most anything in his life. On his Oregon farm he has built, or renovated, 5 tiny structures. After being told by the county that he couldn’t erect a yurt, he built a code-approved main house “to give us a place to legally stay”.

Once the main house was built, he created several smaller structures (less than 200 square feet) on the property from 90% local materials.

The farm is completely off the grid and Schulz points out that this doesn’t mean they rely on propane or lots of photovoltaics. Nearly all their tools for living have been adapted to fit the off-grid lifestyle. For his prototype solar-powered bathhouse Schulz used recycled solar hot water panels, salvaged hot water tanks (from the dump), a solar thermal window and a recycled soaking tub. Indoors, Schulz has adapted a chest freezer to create a low-consuming refrigerator (using a tenth of the electricity of a regular fridge) and a 1940s wood-fired cookstove to cook, heat and as a heat-exchanger, harvesting waste heat and thermo-syphoning water to heat up the home’s hot water.

They do have a limited number of photovoltaic panels which produce about 1000 watts of electricity when the sun is shining (for the entire farm), as well as a micro hydro generator in the creek and solar thermal panels.

Schulz models much of what he builds on the Japanese aesthetic and tries to make everything in his life not just functional, but beautiful (e.g. his bathhouse was designed not just as a shower, but as a way to de-stress).

Schulz is an avid kayaker and for his day job, he builds skin-on-frame kayaks (as well as teach others to build their own).

Cargo container tiny home town on Oakland lot

Luke Iseman and Heather Stewart were tired of paying San Francisco rents and had always dreaming of living in a shipping container so for less than one month’s rent they bought a used shipping container ($2,300 from the Port of Oakland) and began to convert it into a home.

They rented an abandoned lot near the port in West Oakland where they parked their new home and began renting out other containers to friends, while experimenting to create an ideal transportable home. Their 160-square-foot home cost less than the price of a car to fit out. For a total of $12,000 and about 3 weeks of labor, they had added bamboo floors, a lofted bed, a porch, photovoltaics, fast Internet, LED lights, a shower with on-demand hot water, a humanure toilet and a basic kitchen (a camping stove as oven and cooktop and “instead of a propane RV fridge”, they bought a $150 freezer from Home Depot and hacked it with $20 in parts (sensors and an Arduino) to run on a third of the energy of “Energy Star $2000 refrigerators”).

Iseman and Stewart call their tiny homes “Boxouses” and they plan to sell them fully-built for $29,000 a piece. They will also provide plans for those who want to convert their own container. One of the couple’s main goals is to set an example for container housing that can be compatible with life in one of the most expensive places to live in the country. Currently their homes are too small to be permitted in the area, San Francisco minimum size standard was recently lowered to 220 square feet, but Iseman and Stewart think the country needs more examples to inspire regulators/cities to allow for smaller and more portable structures.

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Teen converts bus into off-grid $5600 photovoltaic tiny home

Nineteen-year-old Jonathan Von Reusner was a sophomore going to college in his hometown and living at home. Looking for an affordable way to move out, he decided to buy a bus and build himself a tiny dorm on wheels.

He paid $2500 for a bus he found on craigslist. Then he began to home-ify it: he stripped the seats, added a hardwood floor, a futon couch/bed, a desk, a kitchen (small fridge, water cooler, gas stove) and photovoltaics. The final cost (including PV) was $5600. It doesn’t have toilet or shower facilities, but as a college student, he has free access to all that at the campus gym.

His school, Bard College (2 hours north of New York City), lets him park the bus on campus, but he can’t live in it. Wanting something more permanent, Von Reusner is now camping out- with permission- in the parking lot of the local Buddhist monastery. Since he plans on many more years as a student (he hopes to go to medical school after his final two years of college), he expects to be living in his converted bus home for many years to come.

Earthships: self-sustaining homes for a post-apocalyptic US?

On the desert mesa of New Mexico, miles from the nearest town of Taos (pop. 5,700), Star-Wars-like shelters rise from the earth, half-buried and covered in adobe. Called “Earthships” – brainchild of architect Mike Reynolds in the 1970s- they’re nearly completely self-sufficient homes: no electrical grid, no water lines, no sewer.

The Greater World Earthship Community, about 70 passive solar homes built from earth and trash on 633 acres, had a rough start; they were shut down as an illegal subdivision in 1997 and it took them 7 years to come to compliance. Though today, the county fully cooperates with Reynolds and his Earthship Biotecture operation to turn trash (tires, cans, glass bottles) into shelters and has even given them 2 acres to experiment with housing in anyway they like (they also provide their recycling).

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Sixteen years ago, Tom Duke had just finished over a decade on the pro volleyball circuit when he bought a bit of land here with his wife and began to build a tiny Earthship the size of a storage shed. When their first son was born they built their dream house on the property, a two bedroom that, like other Earthships, collects rainwater, uses its water four times (the plants in the indoor greenhouse filter the greywater) and even processes its own sewage.

In this video, Tom takes us on a tour of his home, his original “Earthship survival pod”, the “nest” ($50,000 studio apartment), the “Simple Survival Earthship” (aimed mainly at the developing world), a custom home designed to feed a family of four (including a tilapia pond in the greenhouse) and the “BMW of Earthships”, the “Global” (aimed at the typical American family).

Earthship Biotecture: earthship.com

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From Gotham to isolated, code & debt-free West Texas estate

Seven years ago John Wells sold his heavily-mortgaged home in upstate New York and bought 40 acres in West Texas for $8000. The area (Brewster County) is so isolated there are no codes or zoning restrictions so Wells built his own tiny home (in 9 days with $1600) relying on his set-building experience.

Not wanting to rely on outside labor, Wells has continued to build his own services: a solar shower, a basic composting toilet, a bike-powered washing machine, an Airstream guest house, and a huge greenhouse which also houses 4 shipping containers he hopes to convert to housing/office space.

Wells named his homestead (now 40 acres, he bought a second 20 acres for $500) the Field Lab (short for “Southwest Texas Alternative Energy and Sustainable Living Field Laboratory”) and he likes to experiment with off-grid solutions: one of his latest is a more-powerful solar oven.

Starting a Garden: Soil Preparation, Biochar, Compost & More

We just moved to our off grid property and now that spring has arrived, we are feeling eager to grow our own food! While we may not have a large, thriving garden this year, we’d at least like to start the gardening process by amending our soil. In this video we’ll share what we’re doing to give ourselves the foundation of a healthy garden including use of compost, biochar and a few other special things you will find out about.

Homesteading Tips: Clearing The Garden Area

Cutting down some trees so the garden will get sunlight.

Our Off Grid RV Battery Charger Solution – Schumacher Battery Charger Unboxing

 

After being on our new homestead for a couple months it was becoming obvious that the built in trickle charger installed in our RV wasn’t keeping up with our battery consumption. Even when running our Honda EU3000i Handi generator for hours each day it simply wasn’t getting the battery charged. A little research turned up that the trickle was only 1 amp. Since we rely on our deep cycle battery for nearly everything in the RV and a dead battery is a major problem we needed more juice. Solar charging and a larger battery bank are in our future, but one thing at a time.

After hours of research and talking with a few battery charger gurus we decided on this 15 amp Schumacher Ship ‘N’ Shore Rapid Battery Charger as a great value, well suited to our needs and a good fit for charging our RV deep cycle battery. It features an algorithm computer control that determines the proper charing phase based on capacity, battery type and state of charge. So when the voltage is low it knows to give it full power, know as bulk charging, but when the voltage nears maximum, it slows down to absorb to get the maximum storage from the battery and then once fully charge it keeps it there via a float stage. This is very similar to the top solar charge controllers, but at a fraction of the cost.

Total cost from the charger was around $50 from Amazon and it’s a very straightforward design. We’re really benefiting from it as our daily incidental generator usage is now more than enough to keep our battery at or near full charge in stead of at or near full discharge as was the case previously. 15 amps is more than enough to top of our battery in just an hour or two and with a algorithm control we don’t need to worry about overcharging.

This is an interim solution for us until we are able to invest in a solar setup and proper battery bank. Opting for a $50 solution was more appropriate than trying to finagle a more costly expandable solar solution when we don’t have all the details on our solar system yet.

If you’re needing a charger to keep your RV, boat, car or truck charged this one is affordable, simple to operate and provides good charging results. Some reviews complained about the short cord, but we just used an extension cord. Not a big problem. Others said the computer can get a little confused and if you’re getting odd charging, just unplug and plug back in. We’ve done that a couple times just to be sure, but overall we haven’t had any of those issues.

Hopefully this review of the Schumacher Ship N Shore 15 amp Rapid charger has been helpful!

The exact model we purchased is the “Schumacher SSC-1500A-CA Ship ‘N’ Shore 15 Amp SpeedCharge Charger”: http://amzn.to/1O4UstT

Converted van as full-time home for nomadic Canadian couple

Mat and Danielle spent their first date bonding over Lloyd Kahn’s book “Home Work” and discussing their ideas for simplifying their lives. They became a couple, but “somewhere along the way, we ended up doing the exact opposite of what we wanted,” explains Danielle on their blog.

“Instead of simplifying, we bought a house and spent months hauling furniture, paint and knick knacks into it to surround ourselves with stuff that we liked. Our bills went up so we got better jobs, started working more, and eventually all we did was work during the day and watch Netflix every night because we were too exhausted to do anything else.”

“Mat was the first to suggest making a change because he found our lifestyle stressful, but I resisted at first. I was really caught up in the idea of owning my own place, maybe starting a family one day and planning for an amazing retirement. I was also excited that I had a new full time job with benefits and that we were financially stable. Eventually I realized that all I was doing was working and I didn’t even like my job anymore. We decided that we should do something crazy: sell our house, quit our jobs and travel the world.”

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Today, Mat and Danielle are living full-time in a converted van. Their back seat folds down into a bed. Their kitchen is a cooler plus camping stove. Their bathroom includes a solar camping shower and a plastic bottle toilet (with funnel).

They’ve eliminated a mortgage, but their are still costs, what Mat calls “like renting a really cheap apartment in a city”. Instead of paying down a house, Mat and Danielle have decided to focus on working less and experiencing more, both by exploring the world and their artistic interests: for Mat, it’s music and art and for Danielle it’s writing.